Townscape Heritage

and Heritage-led Regeneration

Victoria Hunns

  Extensive repairs and the addition of a more sympathetic shopfront to this Grade II listed building in Keighley make a more significant contribution to the conservation area  
  As a prominent Grade II listed corner building at a major junction and on the council’s Buildings at Risk register (below), 3 High Street was one of Keighley’s priority projects. Following extensive repairs, the reinstatement of missing details and the introduction of a more sympathetic shopfront:, the building now makes a significant contribution to the conservation area. (Photos: Bradford Metropolitan District Council)  

On the 50th anniversary of the first conservation areas, the heritage sector has been taking stock of their impact, asking how effective they have been in protecting and promoting high quality townscape through conservation and enhancement of special character, and exploring their impact on economic vitality.

Studies have shown, for example, that house prices in England’s 10,000 conservation areas are on average nine per cent higher than elsewhere. However, despite this, 496 conservation areas in England alone were considered to be ‘at risk’ in 2016 (about 6 per cent of the 8,300 surveyed).

Poor condition of an area has wider implications for a community than the quality of people’s surroundings. Historic England research has shown that

...negative change can have a real effect upon the way the community thrives or feels about their area. When conservation areas become at risk, this can signify or contribute to an area’s social or economic decline.

Many of these risk areas are in town centres with economic and social issues that typically include high levels of social deprivation, crime and a shortage of training and educational opportunities. For many such areas, these problems have been compounded by other factors, including changes in retail provision driven not only by the establishment of out-of-town shopping centres, but increasingly through attitudes to online shopping which are changing the face of the British high street. Many town centres are no longer seen as the primary retail centre in an area and, where there is perceived reduced spending power, are becoming heavily reliant on discount stores and charity shops.

    This listed building was one of Keighley's priority Townscape Heritage projects  

In terms of their impact on the townscape, these problems frequently result in high vacancy rates and lack of investment arising from a diminished property market with reduced rental levels and poor investment yields. In these situations, the evidence from many such towns shows that the conservation or refurbishment of historic properties becomes increasingly difficult to implement, as owners are unable to recover the higher cost of ‘heritage’ repairs through increases in property values after completion of the work. This in turn has been shown to lead to poor quality or poorly designed shopfront replacements, distracting and oversized signage, and significant problems with repair and maintenance of the building stock.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the damage began decades ago and, while they aspire to change attitudes and promote economic growth through good design and conservation, many councils and communities face a difficult legacy of decline to overcome. Success requires substantial investment and a positive approach to change.

A shortage of resources has reduced many local authorities to responding reactively to requests for change (development or alteration) through the planning system. Increasingly, however, a range of intervention strategies is allowing them to develop, alongside communities, a wish-list for proactive change which incorporates the elements which make each historic place individual and special to local and wider communities. This approach is now being promoted in England by Historic England, which in 2016 launched Heritage Action Zones (HAZ) as a means of working with councils and communities to counter and manage negative change in historic places and develop opportunities for growth based around the unique heritage offer in an area.

Embracing heritage-led regeneration is a significant issue, not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of the resources needed to change local policies and win hearts and minds. Fortunately, since 1999, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) scheme has offered grants of £100,000 to £2 million for the heritage-based regeneration of areas in need of social and economic regeneration. Originally known as the Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI), and since 2013 as Townscape Heritage (TH), the UK-wide programme is for schemes which help communities improve the built historic environment of conservation areas in need of investment.

The grants can support partnerships of local, regional and national interests that aim to regenerate economically disadvantaged historic areas for the benefit of local residents, workers and visitors. Central to the TH is a common fund, the overall pot of money available for the scheme, which is made up of HLF grant and other contributions sourced by the applicant or from additional funders such as national heritage bodies, local enterprise partnerships, the environmental bodies which distribute Landfill Communities Fund monies and, pending the outcome of Brexit, the European Regional Development Fund.

Since its inception, the TH/THI has funded around 250 schemes across the UK, some of which have included more than one phase of activity, with consecutive TH schemes covering different, localised areas in complex conservation areas, and where a clear need still exists for extra support to kick-start regeneration. Either through direct delivery or by giving third-party grants to others such as private owners, TH schemes can carry out structural and external repairs to buildings, repair or reinstate elements of architectural detail such as shopfronts or traditional windows and help bring vacant buildings back into use. In addition, they can deliver ‘environmental improvements’ to the public realm and support good-quality and sympathetic development in gap sites.

A fundamental element of the scheme is to address public perceptions and to help bring the community together to explore and engage with their heritage so schemes also include diverse activities such as training in traditional conservation skills for contractors and trainees, maintenance days for property owners, exhibitions and open days.

The application process for TH is extremely competitive (in 2017 only a third of applicants received a Stage 1 pass) and is in two rounds, although it is possible to put in a project inquiry before embarking on significant work to develop a project to ensure that it is likely to be of interest to the HLF. Stage 1 applications are reviewed annually and are determined by a national panel comprising the HLF board of trustees.

A great deal of information is needed even at this outline stage and successful applicants have generally spent considerable energy and time developing an initial, compelling case for funding in their area. Many applicants seek the assistance of specialist consultants who understand how to frame applications to show the impact of a project on the HLF outcomes: ‘heritage, people and communities’. At this stage, the application outlines the heritage, social and economic need for investment, as well as the physical works and costs that would be undertaken to repair and enhance the historic area, the opportunities that will be provided for local people to learn new skills, and the activities that will be run to inspire the local community to take an interest in and get involved with their townscape heritage.

Receiving a Stage 1 pass includes an identified budget being set against a prospective TH, and indicates that the HLF is interested in the project being developed further. As the Stage 2 bid process involves developing a costly, comprehensive case and detailed scheme plan for the expected five-year delivery phase, applicants can request development funding for their project, which they can use to commission specialist consultants, or cover the resourcing of staff within their organisation.


  128 Bridge Street is a high priority project for Worksop's new Townscape Heritage programme as it is in need of a historically appropriate timber shopfront  
  128–126 Bridge Street, Worksop was originally a house, probably constructed in 1761 (the date given on a hopper), but by the early 19th century it was in commercial use and occupied by a shoemaker. Today it is a high priority project for the town’s new TH as it is in poor condition and in need of historically appropriate timber shopfronts. (Photo: Victoria Hunns)  

The Worksop Bridge Street TH, which received approval in 2017, typifies many aspects of small town TH. The area selected is within the town centre’s historic core, where the overall appearance and condition of the area has an impact on the economic potential, community and investor perceptions of the town. The TH aims to enhance the historic interest of the town and help kick-start the positive, conservation-led regeneration of this and the wider area, tying in with wider regeneration work being delivered as part of the Worksop Intervention Strategy.

The project focusses on the repair and reuse of historic buildings and is targeted at specific properties, enabling eligible property owners or their tenants to apply for grants for the wholesale repair of their historic buildings using traditional methods and techniques; and the reinstatement of lost architectural details (such as the replacement of traditional shopfronts or windows). This work is intended to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the buildings and to improve the appearance of the area.

Activities to develop a better understanding and awareness of the historic environment in Worksop and its communities, and ensure that the scheme has a lasting legacy, include engaging with young people through training in traditional construction skills, working with local schools to develop heritage education resources, promoting heritage open days, and developing other interpretation and engagement opportunities including forging strong links with the Dukeries estates, the National Trust and the large national retailers that have made Worksop their home.

Now in the final year of its current Strategic Framework (2013–18), the HLF is no longer accepting applications for Stage 1 TH, although funding for area-based regeneration is still possible through its Heritage Grants programme. Looking forward, HLF is already talking to stakeholders about the content of its next strategic framework, which will hopefully give the sector the opportunity to continue to make the case for the future funding of places and for targeted interventions for townscapes.

Further Information

HLF, Townscape Heritage Application Guidance, 2015 (

Terre du Rocher, Evaluation of the Townscape Heritage Initiative: Review of 25 completed schemes in 2012, 2013 (

Oxford Brookes University, Townscape Heritage Initiative Schemes Evaluation, 2013 (


The Building Conservation Directory, 2018


VICTORIA HUNNS is principal heritage consultant with TDR Heritage, an independent historic environment consultancy that specialises in developing
successful grant funding applications for heritage projects, with particular expertise in historic towns and places, including TH schemes and historic area appraisals

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